MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The death of a local pastor is being felt from the streets of South Memphis to the boardrooms of the city’s power brokers. Pastor Donnell Cobbins, a casualty of COVID-19, leaves a lasting legacy behind.
Donnell and his younger brother Darrell grew up in humble beginnings in South Memphis. They got good grades, and their mother, an employee at The Peabody, got them into MUS, a prestigious private school in Memphis. They are a family full of strength and character, and a family now mending a broken heart.
“You know, he just seemed like someone who was battling the flu,” Darrell Cobbins told WMC Action News 5.
Three days after his big brother was diagnosed with COVID-19, Darrell said Donnell was admitted into the ICU at Baptist East Memorial Hospital, struggling to breathe. Their next conversations would be via Facetime since loved ones are not allowed in the hospital’s COVID-19 ward.
“I said the Lord’s prayer with him and told him I loved him, and told him to keep fighting,” said Darrell.
Donnell, the much-loved pastor of St. Luke Missionary Church in South Memphis, served on the boards of the Blight Authority and the old Downtown Parking Authority. He was a fellow with the New Memphis Institute and past chairman of the Memphis Little League Team.
When he worked in the Shelby County Trustee’s Office, he battled blight. But now he was losing his fight with the virus.
Darrell prayed outside the hospital, every night, for three weeks.
“For me, it was a way of just being there for him,” he said. “And for me, it was a way to find my own peace and my own sanity to manage having a loved one in that situation. Two nights before he passed, I said to God, you know what we want, and that’s for him to be here with us. But if you have a better place prepared for him, then ultimately we will yield to your will.”
Donnell passed away Dec.11. Darrell said he likes to imagine family members greeted him on the other side.
“That vision of him being welcomed by them is what brings me some semblance of peace,” he said choking back tears.
Also reassuring to Darrell is the huge outpouring of love for his brother and support for his family.
“RIP, Bossman,” said one Facebook post, referring to Donnell’s nickname. “Pastor Cobbins was patient, kind, considerate and caring.”
”His fatherly spirit had a delicate way of calming and commanding in equal measure,” wrote another friend.
And Tennessee State Senator London Lamar wrote:
“Today is a sad day for the city! He loved Memphis, his family and gave so much to the community. May he rest in peace.”
Hundreds of notes and kind condolences now provide comfort to a baby brother grieving the loss of his best friend.
“Even though he’s not here, the love is still here,” said Darrell. “And that’s the most important thing that we share and that we have with him. And that makes you able to get up every day and move forward, just one day at a time.”
Cobbins was always looking out for others. He applied for a technology grant to help his church hold virtual services in order to stay safe from the virus.
Darrell told WMC Action News 5 that church members just found out Donnell’s grant application was approved.